Since I wasn’t really into women’s activism as an egg in my mother’s body during the 1970s, and since the Internet was also not around yet, I sort of missed this story. But now that I know it, it’s hard to look at one of my favorite authors in the same way again.
Dr. Seuss, AKA Theodor Seuss Geisel, the beloved creator of such works as Horton Hears a Who! and The Cat in the Hat, was a self-confirmed misogynist pig who not only deliberately kept female characters out of his books as often as he possibly could; he also made them into dunces and/or stereotypes when he did include them, and then dismissed the demands of feminists to change some of his works with gems like, “These gals obviously have a lot of time on their hands to write letters, and I think answering them would just be stirring up a female hornets’ nest,” and that the letters themselves were “written by Extreme-Fringe-Woman-Libbers.” He then said he refused to change a part of one story that indicated that women of were lesser intelligence than men because he was a “male chauvinist peeg.”
For a full breakdown of Seuss’s works and the disturbing trend of sexism in them, click here.
My question is, what do we do with this knowledge? Obviously reading And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Streetis going to become a very different experience when we read it to our daughters, if we even choose to after knowing what Seuss wrote in it about the ability of females to think about a thought a male could think up (with apparently less effort). But the sexism isn’t so apparent in many of his works (except for the lack of female characters, which we’re already used to in our films), so do we continue to enjoy those books?
I remember when I discovered the racist, colonial message was behind the Babarbooks, which I’d loved as a child. So far, my daughter hasn’t picked out any of them to read just yet, but when she does, I need to be ready with some good discussion points.
The best choice, when addressing issues like these in children’s literature, might be to simply answer questions when they come up, as well as to engage in discussions about whether a girl could be the mayor or general, or a boy could be the house husband instead. Pointing out these instances in real life situations will also help bring it home that these stereotypes are only just that, and that people where we live can be whatever they want to be.
Of course, supplying plenty of literature portraying this concept is also crucial; I love what the Global Village School suggests, as well as the reading list supplied by the Institute for Humane Education. Some individual books with strong female leads that I adore include Violet the Pilot, Grace for President, Princess Knight, Pirate Girl, and the Sisters Grimmseries. Feel free to recommend others below.